Wittenberg challenges students to become responsible global citizens, to discover their callings, and to lead personal, professional, and civic lives of creativity, service, compassion, and integrity, and that challenge was accepted by alumnus Ronnie Ross, class of 2009.
Ross originally hails from Tuscarawas County (Dover), Ohio. He grew up in Appalachia, on the Ohio side of the mountain, the son of two public school teachers. While growing up and during his time at Wittenberg, he was taught about following your own mind, making your own path, and standing up for what you think is right. Now, 10 years after graduation, he is doing just that by making a run for the Virginia Senate District 27 in the upcoming election on Nov. 5, 2019.
“I came to Wittenberg because the year before I graduated, our valedictorian at my high school chose to come to Wittenberg, so I thought I would check it out,” said Ross, who graduated summa cum laude with degrees in English and philosophy and was inducted into the national honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.
“Wittenberg was the only school that felt like home to me. I knew that I wanted to be at a school that formed young people to help give back to the world,” said Ross, who was also recruited to play football. “Wittenberg was so impressive and included a way to get me off campus for the community service aspect as well. At 18, I kind of grumbled about community service being a requirement, but at 32, I realize it was a great thing.”
In the midst of the Great Recession, job prospects were bleak for the class of 2009. According to Ross, since that time, studies repeatedly showed that those with the bad luck to graduate during the worst economy since the Great Depression will have their earnings impacted for the rest of their lives. And so, when he was offered a chance to teach English at Highland School in Warrenton, Virginia, the day before graduation, he jumped at the opportunity to pursue his passion.
A teacher, a coach, a school administrator, a husband to Josie, his wife, and a father to the more than a- year-old, Ronnie Jr. (the 4th), Ross is taking a closer look at the world around him.
“I was lucky to find a job so quickly and I’ve been living in Virginia ever since,” said Ross, who earned his master’s degree in education with a focus in school leadership in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania. “I became deeply anxious about the world we were creating -- and leaving -- not just for little Ronnie, but for all of our children. With the birth of our son and the encouragement of my wife, I decided to run. When I mentioned to Josie that it would be difficult to run with an infant in the household, she responded with words I will never forget: ‘That’s fine; it will be hard. But, when it feels like too much, you can always just look into your son’s eyes and know why you’re doing this.’ I’ve always been interested in politics. My dad was a history teacher and politics was never held at arm’s length. We always had good discussions at the dinner table.”
Ross announced in June 2018 that he would run for a seat on the general assembly (GA), and has been on the campaign trail for about a year now as only Virginia and New Jersey have odd election years. At that time, he decided to go part-time with his current job in the English department. He is the freshman dean at the high school and oversees the academics and social development of his students.
“If I were to be elected, I would continue to go part-time and work in the GA part-time – so I would do both,” he said. “I have also been a coach, but I’m not doing that right now. I’ve coached many sports, including soccer, basketball, and have four state championships in soccer – two in girls and two in boys. I feel that my personal and professional experience have given me strong insights into the needs of Virginia Senate District 27, whether it’s representing people’s needs in Richmond or listening to them in Boyce. I know that the biggest part of fighting for them is listening to them, and I am eager to do both.”
Ross says that in order to run a successful campaign, you have to raise at least a million dollars. He is running as a Democrat, but in Virginia, no one registers with a party; everyone is an independent. He will be taking on Jill Vogel, who was elected in 2007 and has served since then. He plans to visit 75,000 front doors in his area.
When asked about the focuses of his campaign, Ross said that “as a teacher, education is forefront.” Ross went on the talk about rural broadband, the opioid crisis, and Virginia's $7.25/hour minimum wage.
“By some measures, Virginia is the 12th best economy in the United States, but our per-pupil funding is 42nd,” Ross said. “Our teachers have watched their salary decrease in inflation-adjusted numbers while paying more for their benefits.
"When I think about our children, I can't help but worry about the world that we'll be leaving them,” he added. “We have more work to do in order to make solar power more available to homes and businesses, and we have to make a more robust investment in offshore wind. And lastly, our General Assembly just expanded Medicaid, and that was wonderful, but we have more work to do. Access is still an issue, as are dental benefits.”
While at Wittenberg, Ross played football for two years, participated in Mock Trial for two years, was an orientation assistant, a member of the Honor Council, on the Honors Program Advisory Board, and worked at the library.
“I am so deeply grateful for the person Wittenberg shaped me into,” he said. “Wittenberg took an 18-year-old boy and lifted up my eyes to the world. Wittenberg shaped and honed my thinking, my morals, pushed me and challenged me, and I went on to an Ivy school for my master’s and graduated with a 4.0. Wittenberg prepared me for that – for Penn. Penn prepared me for systems, how to interact on a larger scale, and function on a larger scale – it took my Wittenberg education to the next step.”